Mid-20th Century American writers competed on their dust flaps to list the most jobs held. The more proletarian occupations an author enumerated, such as short order cook, hod carrier, and lobsterman, the more legitimate was his assault on the Great American Novel.
Today, however, a generation of the well-educated has grown up assuming “there are jobs Americans just won’t do.” “Adventureland,” a witty, nostalgic love story is set in the summer of 1987, about the time when tuition started being inflated so high by competitive elitism and unskilled wages pounded so low by illegal immigration that “summer job” was increasingly replaced in the upper middle class vocabulary by “unpaid internship.” (By now, a few parents are paying fashionable employers to let their kids make photocopies and fetch coffee.)
A new Oberlin graduate, James Brennan, has his costly Eurail Pass backpack tour canceled by his parents because his alcoholic father’s executive career is wobbling. Suddenly needing a summer job to pay for tuition in the fall at the Columbia Journalism School, he finds that a resume featuring his SAT scores and his Renaissance Studies major doesn’t compensate for his lack of any work experience. Nobody in Greater Pittsburgh, it turns out, needs a fresco restored. He winds up at the employer of last resort, the Adventureland amusement park.
Writer-director Greg Mottola, who helmed 2007’s comedy hit “Superbad,” explains the origin of his quasi-autobiographical film with an ingenuous snobbishness that would have annoyed and amused John Steinbeck. “I was talking with a bunch of writer friends, and I was telling them these embarrassing stories about a summer in the ‘80s that I spent as a carnie working at an amusement park … It was the worst job I’ve ever had… I should have had a good job—I should have been a tutor or gone to Manhattan and been an intern at a magazine or something respectable ...”
Please note that Mottola isn’t, personally, a jerk. Judging from “Adventureland,” he’s an insightful yet gentle observer. That’s just the way people think nowadays.
March 31, 2009
Here's the opening of my review from The American Conservative of the film opening this Friday: